I was diagnosed with breast cancer in late April 2021. A couple of months after my surgery, and while we were in the midst of Covid lockdown 6, I was struggling emotionally. I reached out to my breast care nurse and knowing I am an artist, asked if I would be interested in joining the art therapy program. While I was a little nervous, I was also very keen to join a group of like-minded people who had their own cancer story.
I am now part of an on-line art therapy Open Studio group run by the ONJ Centre’s Senior Art Therapist, Fiona Scottney. It goes from 1 – 3pm each Friday. While part of me would love to meet with the lovely women in person, it is very convenient to meet on-line. You don’t need to worry about travelling or parking! It's also so nice to be in a “safe” group with other people who understand the cancer journey. Two hours is a lovely time – it allows for a check in with how we are all going. We can all learn together and be encouraged with no judgement.
Painting has helped to "unlock" my inner-self, thoughts and feelings that I found hard to express. Through my continued recovery, painting has become a love and passion, I call it “healing art”. I initially did this by myself, and I have to say at times I felt very lonely. So, to be part of this group has been a safe haven for me, a learning experience, a healing experience, but this time with others by my side.
There is no pressure in this group, no judgements, it’s a space where you get to be “you”. Sometimes we are all quiet and let Fiona lead us in options to help art guide us in uncovering how we feel, to explore our emotions. At other times we might listen to someone’s concerns , some are able to offer suggestions, to encourage or to be a listening friend. We really do share each other’s joys, sorrows and concerns. Sometimes we listen to music while we make art, sometimes we natter away or laugh. I look forward to Friday afternoons no matter how I’m feeling, because there is no pressure on me to complete anything or expectations on how I participate. I have loved the input about art theory, various artists and their styles, different techniques, journelling and using different mediums – things I have never done. A highlight to me was journalling - using art each day for a month in October. I learnt a lot about myself, my emotions and consequently was able to work through a lot of issues.
I would love to encourage others to have a go. It takes time to process a cancer diagnosis, and often due to all the tests and appointments you might feel like you are operating on auto pilot and just having things “done to you”. It took me a few months after my mastectomy to realise that I hadn’t processed what this means to me, to come to terms with my emotions, to work through issues that were rising up from my past. Art therapy helped me to do this. My advice is to take time for yourself, accept help in any way, think about looking at what the ONJ Centre offers in terms of therapy groups and have a go.